Indian student in federal court over right to wear eagle feather


Hayden Griffith has been told she can't wear an eagle feather during graduation ceremonies despite support from the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma. Photo from Facebook

An Indian student in Oklahoma is battling a public school district over her right to wear an eagle feather on her graduation cap.

Hayden Layne Griffith is due to graduate from Caney Valley High School tomorrow. But officials say she can't wear the feather, which was a gift from an elder of the Delaware Tribe as a recognition of her achievements.

"Ms.Griffith’s high school graduation ceremony is among the most significant events of her life and she wants to wear the single eagle feather gifted to her by the tribal elder to acknowledge and honor her Native American culture and family and as a practice and expression of her Native American religious beliefs," Hayden's legal team, which includes the Native American Rights Fund, said in a brief.

A federal magistrate is siding with the school. A report and recommendation issued on Tuesday contends the school's policy represents a "legitimate" interest in fostering "unity" among students who are graduating.

Hayden "has not demonstrated that the inability to affix an eagle feather to her graduation cap during the graduation ceremony places a substantial burden on her free exercise of religion," the recommendation states.

The finding does not cite any of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions affecting religious freedom. Those rulings -- including Holt v. Hobbs from January -- place a high burden on governments to defend policies that might infringe on a person's spiritual beliefs.

The parties are filing responses today to the recommendation. A federal judge is expected to make a decision prior to the graduation ceremony.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools.

In a second case, a member of the Muscogee Nation filed suit in federal court over an eagle feather controversy at Southmoore High School. The lawsuit, however, was withdrawn by the student's mother, The Oklahoman reported.

Get the Story:
Magistrate Rules Against Caney Valley Senior Wearing Eagle Feather At Graduation (News on 6 5/19)
Magistrate says student shouldn't wear feather to graduation (AP 5/20)
Federal magistrate rules against Caney Valley student in bid to wear eagle feather to graduation (The Tulsa World 5/20)
Moore schools face lawsuit over religious freedom at graduation (The Oklahoman 5/20)

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